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College students use social media to aid wrongfully detained Americans

College students use social media to aid wrongfully detained Americans
Posted at 12:42 PM, Mar 21, 2023

The Shargi family says every day without Emad Shargi adds to the pain.

"It's horrific. It's maddening," said Emad's sister, Neda. "It's beyond anything that I could ever imagine."

Emad Shargi is an American citizen and businessman. Five years ago, he traveled to Iran to visit family. He never returned.

"He's an innocent American that is being used as a pawn in a game that's not his to play," said his daughter, Hannah.

Iranian authorities detained Emad and he remains in prison there.

"We're assuming that it is the same as the other Americans who are being held there, which is 'cooperating with a hostile enemy,' which in this case is, the Iranians consider the United States that," Neda said.

The U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.

For several years, the family stayed quiet about Emad's imprisonment, afraid of putting him in danger overseas. Then, the Iranian government publicized the case.

"Since then, we've been very public and have been working very closely with the [U.S.] State Department. Emad was designated by the State Department as 'wrongfully detained,' which is an official designation," Neda said.

However, they and the other families are seeking something more: a meeting at the White House, with President Biden.

"I know he's aware of our situation, but I don't think he knows how dire it is, how worried we all are," Hannah said of the president.

Dozens of Americans are being wrongfully detained in other countries, according to the James Foley Foundation, which tracks these cases.

Now, they are getting some unexpected help.

"We believe storytelling can change the world," said American University professor Pallavi Kumar, who leads a class called SOC3.

SOC3 is described as an integrated communications agency, which includes students majoring in film, journalism and public relations.

"We like to say it's powered by Gen Z - because who better to tell stories than Gen Z?" Kumar said. "They are digital natives. They've never grown up in a world where you don't have an iPhone."

Together, they are taking on the cause of "Bring Our Families Home," a campaign to bring wrongfully detained Americans back to the U.S.

"At the end of the day, we just want to ensure that their story is heard," said American University student Isis Amusa.

They recently met with the Shargi family.

"We're trying to think about different strategies to get public attention to this cause so that eventually, with enough attention, it can get to Biden himself," said Jules Losee, an American University student also in SOC3.

Those efforts include making social media videos to let people know about the families' plight.

"As Gen Z, we kind of have this niche understanding of how TikTok can be used to amplify movements," Amusa said.

"This is an example where we can drive public attention in a way that will actually result in real material change," Losee added.

The Shargi family said the students' efforts mean so much to them.

"It just shows like how big people's hearts are and how amazing these students are that they want to get involved and help us, is incredible," Hannah said.

Neda said she is grateful for the students' efforts.

"I'm touched by it, that this is a cause that has moved them to put their time and efforts into it," Neda said. "I think this campaign has brought families like ours out of the shadows."